Workshop fuels love of nature

FAIRMONT – About a hundred kids turned out to build birdhouses Saturday at Five Lakes Centre in Fairmont, according to Jim Grotte with the Martin County Conservation Club.

It’s an annual tradition that gives local children an opportunity to learn some basic building skills and gain a better understanding of bird habitat. With adult supervision and guidance, children were able to make small wren houses and a nesting shelf house for robins and barn swallows, which was new this year.

“The kids are loving them,” Grotte said, noting that some children opted to build more than one bird house.

The Conservation Club hosted the event with help from local 4-Hers, and the Fairmont Area High School Trap Club served refreshments.

Grotte estimated the club has given away between 2,500 to 3,000 wood duck houses, 2,500 bluebird houses, and 2,500 or more wren houses over the years.

“We’ve been doing this since some time in the ’90s,” Grotte said.

“All the lumber is scrap; it would’ve been thrown away,” he said.

The scrap lumber comes from local construction companies and individual contractors contributing from their construction sites, Grotte said. Sometimes the club buys the nails and paint and sometimes they’re donated, like from the Martin County paint recycling program.

Grotte and Steve Maurice put in a couple hundred hours of labor cutting the wood.

“I could not do this without him,” Grotte said.

Other people help paint, and more than a dozen club members volunteer at the event, assembling the pieces and starting each nail, then holding the structure while the kids drive the nails home.

“Nice to get these kids involved,” Grotte said.

The club started out making wood duck houses and bluebird houses.

“It evolved to mostly wren houses, the past seven or eight years,” Grotte said. “We quit doing bluebird houses. The kids put them up in town and the sparrows use them.”

A lot of thought goes into the construction of the houses.

“Wren houses are miniature versions of bluebird houses,” Grotte said. “We make the hole small enough so a wren or chickadee can get in, but a sparrow cannot.”

None of the birdhouses have a perch, either, “because a sparrow will sit on that perch and bother (the ones inside),” he said.

The club has other birdhouse events, including giveaways and sales, with proceeds going to build more birdhouses.

Every year, club members build wren houses and paint them white, then pick out schools in the county to give them to.

“The kids paint them up however they want,” Grotte said, adding it gives the kids a sense of ownership of the houses if they worked on them.